Pierre Teilhard’s Cosmic Mind

phenomenonofman There is a way that dots lay out before us — little markers of insight or attention — and it might be years before it makes sense what the relevance of those points are. Such is the case for me with the writing of Pierre Teilhard. I was in middle school when my mother returned to college. I distinctly remember one of the books she was reading for a humanities class: “The Phenomenon of Man,” by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. I never opened the book. I only remember it, solely, among the dozens of new books my mother brought home at that time.

Decades later I was listening to a Krista Tippett podcast (December 19, 2012) about his insights when the dots were connected. I immediately remembered the book cover from my youth. I believe that moment in middle school was a marker for me — some of you might understand a sense of “awakening” to the importance of something that eventually becomes clear. Why else would that relatively benign book cover be such a seed in my memory?

Now in my 50s, exploring where spirituality and science merge, Teilhard’s name regularly springs up. Most recently Endel Kallas, a member of my IONS conscious conversation circle, led us in a short overview of Teilhard’s life and thoughts.


The Biography

Teilhard was a French Jesuit priest and paleontologist in the early 1900s. His writing was suppressed by the Vatican until after his death in New York City in 1955, eight days before Albert Einstein died 50 miles away. As Tippett put it on her program, “He penned forbidden ideas that seemed mystical at the time but are now coming true — that humanity would develop capacities for collective, global intelligence; that a meaningful vision of the earth and the universe would have to include, as he put it, ‘the interior as well as the exterior of things; mind as well as matter.’ The coming stage of evolution, he said, won’t be driven by physical adaptation but by human consciousness, creativity and spirit.”

cosmic-earthAs a contemporary of Einstein and his ideas about how time and space are relative concepts, Teilhard seemed to grasp the magnitude of what that meant for humans. As Teilhard’s biographer, Ursula King, explained on Tippett’s show: “He’s suddenly aware that we are … living on the whole earth, and the earth has a face and a kind of identity… It’s like a cosmic person. … He speaks about ‘we are but an atom in the universe.’”

When he was a stretcher-bearer in World War I, in 1914, he wrote an essay titled “Writings in Time of War,” that included this line:

“My starting point is the fundamental initial fact that each one of us is perforce linked by all the material, organic and psychic strands of his being to all that surrounds him.”

With philosopher Edouard Le Roy, he created the term noosphere — the layer of thinking that connects us. His view was that the human is not fully developed yet. Some people say Teilhard is the patron saint of the Internet, foreseeing our enhanced and intense ability to communicate globally.

As King said, “He’s less and less interested in the past and more and more interested in where are we going, what are we doing with the potential we have, with the imagination, the creativity, the consciousness, the complexification of people thinking together and acting together. What is all this aiming for?”


On Consciousness

One reason I think Teilhard resonates so well in the early 21st century is that we are in the toddler stages of learning how to use our communication capabilities for collaborating constructively around global issues — and in the infant stages of recognizing our interconnectedness.

As Kallas explained to our IONS group, a pivotal Teilhard quote for him is this:

“Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”

big-blue-marbleOur Earthly structures were triggered by the hydrogen and helium energy of the sun — our entire molecular and biological structures share its lineage with the first atoms, and through the power of light, the sun, and photosynthesis, our lives have been able to become more complex.

Kallas pointed out that Teilhard, and the more contemporary Brian Swimme, convey that everything is an energetic transfer, through waves, back to the ‘star birth’ that formed the universe. Other solar systems are born of the same energy. From the quantum to the cosmic, our structures are intact.


On Connection

teilhard-quoteAnother element of Teilhard’s writing is that we are as a mirror recognizing ourselves, seeing ourselves in the inward and outward at the same time. Remaining true to his Christian beliefs, he felt we were part of a sphere of global consciousness: What ideas in this noosphere are worth spreading? What are humans doing to expand (not destroy) our global intelligence? Will we meet our potential?

From ancient writings in Latin came the concept of defining God as ‘an infinite sphere, whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.’

img_6933Kallas explained that, like an Escher painting, Teilhard felt the universe was conscious of itself, and our Earthly circle was capable of bridging community in a sphere that connects us in purpose.

Of course, in 2016, it doesn’t feel that way much, does it?


On Understanding

The true physics is that which will, one day, achieve the inclusion of man in his wholeness in a coherent picture of the world. — Pierre Teilhard

In the Tippett podcast, New York Times writer Andrew Refkin (dotearth blog), spoke of something near to me as I begin to build an Attainable We website and book of essays.

He said at the time: “We need to have a little of what I call anthropophilia if we’re going to have a smooth ride in anthropocene, which means we have to get more comfortable with our differences. Within any population, you’re going to have people who will have different judgments about the same body of science. And only by having a connectedness such that when you go onto the Web, you’re not staying in your own little bubble, whether it’s a green bubble or a Libertarian bubble, but willing to reach out to understand other peoples’ views.”

In communication with Refkin, he brought to my attention Edge, which is where various thinkers have been invited to respond to an annual question. In it, Jay Rosen, an associate professor of journalism at NYU, offered a great essay about the complexity of issues — directly related to my #3 Attainable We stage, understanding the “Irrelevance of ‘Right'” — that requires more than what we’re currently cognitively training ourselves to do:

“Wicked problems have these features: It is hard to say what the problem is, to define it clearly or to tell where it stops and starts. There is no ‘right’ way to view the problem… Someone can always say that the problem is just a symptom of another problem and that someone will not be wrong. There are many stakeholders, all with their own frames, which they tend to see as exclusively correct… The problem is inter-connected to a lot of other problems; pulling them apart is almost impossible.

It gets worse… No one has ‘the right to be wrong’… Instead failure is savaged, and the trier is deemed unsuitable for another try. The problem keeps changing on us. It is never definitely resolved. Instead, we just run out of patience, or time, or money…

Wicked problems demand people who are creative, pragmatic, flexible and collaborative… They know there’s no right place to start so they simply start somewhere and see what happens. They accept the fact that they’re more likely to understand the problem after its “solved” than before. They don’t expect to get a good solution; they keep working until they’ve found something that’s good enough.” (Read his response in full here)


Concluding Thoughts

escherIn my view, we are an evolution always in process, connected in the deep, and less obviously on our surface. We now have a more obvious gift of the noosphere, to eventually aid us — we hope — in recognizing both the inward and outward of our existence as a universe (the surface and the deep).

We might be on the verge of being able to understand our selves as not simply filled with matter and energy, but also with in-formation, from the multiple perspectives that we are.

Our interconnected world has been segmented and fragmented by the human mind, and now we might begin to try to put it back into more of the wholeness for which it was designed.

— Mikki Morrissette, Minneapolis, October 2016


Related Resources

Offered by IONS community members.

“Entanglement can’t be visualized in spacetime terms because entanglement precedes spacetime. You need entanglement to have spacetime — it is somehow more fundamental than spacetime. So you cannot understand entanglement as something that happens within spacetime. This strikes me as very close to Bohr’s original insight, first articulated in 1927, that a spacetime description and a cause-and-effect description are mutually exclusive. Almost nine decades later, physicists may be on the verge of understanding why those two views are incompatible, and may soon be able to show that entanglement itself provides the resolution of its own mystery.”

“The Risen Christ is Jesus released from all space/time restrictions. He is beyond space; he is beyond time. He includes all of the spiritual and the physical world, reconciled within himself.”
  • A Long View of Time by Krista Tippett
    The Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is a beacon for this book, and especially in my reflections on hope. He foresaw that we would overlay the biosphere with the noosphere — the realm of human intelligence, information, and action. He believed that the noosphere would drive the next stage of evolution — an evolution of spirit and consciousness.
  • View this talk from Nancy Abrams
  • The insights of Lisa Randall — the consciousness of scale required to understand different realities at different orders of magnitude.

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